Nissan Leaf review - plug-in pioneer gets a boost

A lot of tests of electric cars seem to involve people trying to drive from Bognor to Bosnia or some other unlikely epic trip in order to test their range and the charging infrastructure to breaking point.

These tests do have their uses and help expose the strengths and weaknesses in the current crop of EVs under strenuous testing. They don’t, however, reflect how most people actually use their cars.

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I mean, I don’t know about you, but I don’t regularly cover 1,000 miles a week in any car, petrol, diesel or electric. So, instead of seeing whether the new Nissan Leaf could get me the length of the country in 24 hours I decided to see if it could cope with the mundane, day-to-day life most family cars actually face.

So it was pressed into use on the short school run, my commute from countryside to city centre and one longer weekend trip to visit friends.

This Leaf (an e+) doesn’t look any different from the early second-generation cars launched in 2018 - that is a bit weird and ungainly. But under the surface it’s been given a boost with a 62kWh battery to improve range.

While the early second-gen cars’ range improved on the first, a real-world range of 120-130 miles from the 40kWh battery still wasn’t great. For me, it left me unsure whether I could complete the 120-mile round trip to see my parents on a single charge and ruled out making it to the in-laws’, let alone back again.

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The 62kWh battery option aims to address such concerns as well as bring the Leaf into contention with rivals such as the Kia e-Niro and Hyundai Kona Electric, both of which claim real-world range in excess of 200 miles.

The Leaf makes similar claims. WLTP range is quoted as 239 miles and at full charge our test car's computer said it would cover 234 miles.

Nissan Leaf e+ Tekna

  • Price: £36,395
  • Motor: Single electric motor with 62kWh battery
  • Power: 214bhp
  • Torque: 251lb/ft
  • Top speed: 98mph
  • 0-62mph: 7.3 seconds
  • Range: 239 miles
  • CO2 emissions: 0g/km

A week with the car proved that this is still ambitious but that different uses and driving have significantly different effects on how far you’ll go.

By and large, the two-mile school run used around two miles of indicated range and left me feeling pious as I wasn’t adding to the pollution at the school gates.

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My 30-mile drive into work used around 25 miles and actually saw my range creep back up as I crawled through traffic and the brake regeneration clawed back energy.

But on the 80-mile motorway weekend run, I lost a whopping 150 miles of range. Even at that, I had more than 80 miles of range left, enough to confidently complete my commute, but it shows the impact of different driving.

Nonetheless, the Leaf showed that for the many drivers looking for a car to commute, do the school run, pop to the shops and venture further afield at the weekend, an EV is a perfectly reasonable option, and 160 miles should be easily achievable on one charge.

Whether the Leaf’s the right option is less clear-cut.

This more powerful version - 214bhp v 148bhp - is surprisingly quick off the mark and as pleasant to drive as the lesser 40kWh version. It’s smooth, quiet and effortless, with a comfortable ride and better handling that you might expect.

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Where it continues to fall down is the packaging. The cabin is cramped even for the driver and the ergonomics aren’t great. The media/navigation system is crammed full of useful drivetrain and charge information but it’s so sluggish and basic looking you’ll think you’ve travelled back in time. Its only saving grace is the presence of Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.

Equipment is generous, with Nissan’s ProPilot driver assist sitting alongside the likes of heated seats and steering wheel, leather upholstery and a premium Bose stereo. But then, at £36k+ you’d expect a decent level of kit.

The latest Leaf proves that as long as you don’t cross the continent on a weekly basis it is a perfectly usable option for most drivers. However, where it once led the way there are now serious rivals which offer better range and more pleasant interiors for a similar price.

This article first appeared on The Scotsman

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